Returning to Makkah in haste after a trading trip to Syria, Talhah asked
his family: "Did anything happen in Makkah since we left?" "Yes," they
replied. "Muhammad ibn Abdullah emerged alleging that he is a Prophet
and Abu Quhafah (Abu Bakr) has followed him."
"I used to know Abu Bakr," said Talhah. "He is an easy-going, amiable,
gentle man. He was an honest and upright trader. We were quite fond of
him and loved sitting in his company because of his knowledge of Quraysh
history and genealogy."
Later, Talhah went to Abu Bakr and asked: "Is it true what they say,
that Muhammad ibn Abdullah has appeared as a Prophet and that you follow
him." "Yes," replied Abu Bakr and went on to tell Talhah about Muhammad
and what a good thing it would be if he too followed him. Talhah in turn
told Abu Bakr the story of his strange recent encounter with an ascetic
in the market-place of Busra in Syria. The ascetic is said to have told
Talhah that someone called "Ahmad" would appear in Makkah about that time
and that he would be the last of the Prophets. He also told Talhah, so
the story goes, that the Prophet would leave the sacred precincts of Makkah
and migrate to a land of black soil, water and palm trees...
Abu Bakr was astonished by the story and took Talhah to Muhammad. The
Prophet, peace be on him, explained Islam to Talhah and recited some portions
of the Quran to him. Talhah was enthusiastic. He related to the Prophet
his conversation with the ascetic of Busra. There and then, Talhah pronounced
the Shahadah - that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the
Messenger of Allah. He was the fourth person who had been introduced to
Islam by Abu Bakr.
The Quraysh were astounded by the young Talhah's acceptance of Islam.
The one who was most dismayed and unhappy was his mother. She had hoped
that he would one day be a leader in his community because of his noble
character and his outstanding virtues. Some of the Quraysh, anxious and
worried, went to Talhah as soon as they could to wean him away from his
new religion but found him firm and unshakable as a rock. When they despaired
of using gentle persuasion to achieve their aim, they resorted to persecution
and violence. The following story is related by Masud ibn Kharash:
"While I was making saiy between as-Safa and al-Marwa, there appeared
a crowd of people pushing a young man whose hands were tied behind his
back. As they rushed behind him, they rained down blows on his head. In
the crowd was an old woman who lashed him repeatedly and shouted abuses
at him. I asked: 'What's the matter with this young man?' 'This is Talhah
ibn Ubaydullah. He gave up his religion and now follows the Banu Hashim
man.' 'And who is the woman behind him?' I asked. 'She is as-Sabah bint
al-Hadrami, the young man's mother,' they said.
The Quraysh did not stop there. Nawfal ibn Khuwaylid, nicknamed the 'lion
of the Quraysh" bound Talhah with a rope and with the same rope he tied
up Abu Bakr and then handed them over to the mindless and violent mob
of Makkah to be beaten and tortured. The shared experience no doubt drew
Talhah and Abu Bakr closer together!
Years passed and events of great significance took place. Talhah grew
in stature as he bore the pain and suffering of being tested in the path
of God and His Prophet. He gained the unique reputation among Muslims
of being called the "living martyr". The Prophet, peace be on him, also
called him "Talhah the Good" and "Talhah the Generous".
The name of the "living martyr" was earned during the Battle of Uhud.
Talhah had missed the Battle of Badr. He and Said ibn Zayd had been sent
outside Madinah on a mission by the Prophet and when they returned, the
Prophet and his companions were already on the way back from Badr. They
were both sad at having missed the opportunity of taking part in the first
campaign with the Prophet but were tremendously pleased when he told them
they would get the same reward as those who actually fought.
At the Battle of Uhud, when the Muslims fell into disarray at the beginning
of hostilities the Prophet became dangerously exposed. There were about
eleven men of the Ansar at his side and one Muhajir - Talhah ibn Ubaydullah.
The Prophet clambered up the mountain hotly pursued by some mushrikin.
The Prophet, peace be on him, shouted:
"The one who repulses these people from us will be my companion in Paradise."
"I, O Messenger of god," shouted Talhah.
"No, stick to your position," replied the Prophet. A man from the Ansar
volunteered and the Prophet agreed. He fought until he was killed. The
Prophet went further up the mountain with the mushrikin still in close
pursuit. "Isn't there someone to combat these?"
Talhah again volunteered but the Prophet ordered him to maintain his
position. Another person immediately came forward, fought and was killed.
This happened until all who stood by the Prophet were martyred except
"Now, yes," signalled the Prophet and Talhah went into battle. By this
time, the Prophet's teeth had been broken, his forehead had been slashed,
his lips had been wounded and blood was streaming down his face. He was
drained of energy. Talhah plunged into the enemy and pushed them away
from the Prophet. He turned back to the Prophet and helped him a little
further up the mountain and put him to lie on the ground. He then renewed
his attack and successfully repulsed the enemy. About this occasion Abu
"At that moment, Abu Ubayd ibn al-Jarrah and I were far from the Prophet.
When we came close to him to render assistance to him, the Prophet said:
'Leave me and go to your companion (meaning Talhah)."
There was Talhah, bleeding profusely. He had numerous wounds, from sword,
spear and arrow. His foot had been cut and he had fallen into a hollow
where he lay unconscious.
Thereafter, the Prophet, peace be on him, said: "Whoever is pleased to
see a man still walking on earth who had completed his span (of life),
let him look at Talhah ibn Ubaydallah."
And, whenever Uhud was recalled, As-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him,
would say: "That day, that entire day, belonged to Talhah."
That was the story of how Talhah became to be called the "living martyr".
There were unnumerabIe incidents which led to him being called "Talhah
the Good" and "Talhah the Generous".
Talhah was an astute and successful merchant who travelled widely to
the north and south of the Arabian peninsula. It is said that after one
of his trips to Hadramawt, he had profits amounting to some seven hundred
thousand dirhams. His nights would be anxious and worried on account of
this vast wealth. On one such night, his wife, Umm Kulthum the daughter
of Abu Bakr, said to him:
"What's wrong with you, O father of Muhammad? Perhaps I have done something
to hurt you.'?" "No ," replied Talhah. "You are a wonderful wife for a
Muslim man. But I have been thinking since last night: How can a man think
of his Lord and Sustainer when he goes to sleep with this wealth in his
"Why should it bother you so much ," remarked Umm Kulthum. "What about
all the needy ones in your community and all your friends? When you get
up in the morning share it out among them."
"God bless you. You are really marvellous, the daughter of a marvellous
man," said Talhah to his wife. In the morning, Talhah gathered up the
money in bags and distributed it among the poor Muhajirin and Ansar.
It is related that a man came up to Talhah requesting help and also mentioning
some common family connection between them.
"This family connection someone has mentioned to me before," said Talhah
who was in fact known for his generosity to all members of his clan. Talhah
told the man that he had just sold a piece of land to Uthman ibn Allan
for several thousand dirhams. The man could have the money or the land
which could be re-purchased from Uthman. The man opted for the money and
Talhah gave it all to him.
Talhah was well-known for helping persons who had debt problems, heads
of families who experienced hardship, and widows. One of his friends,
as-Saib ibn Zayd, said of him: "I accompanied Talhah ibn Ubaydallah on
journeys and I stayed with him at home and I have not found anyone who
was more generous with money, with clothes and with food than Talhah."
No wonder he was called "Talhah the Good" and "Talhah the Generous".
The name Talhah is also connected with the first fitnah or civil war
among Muslims after the death of the prophet, peace be on him.
The seeds of trouble were sown during the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan.
There were many complaints and accusations against him. Some mischief-makers
were not content with accusations only but were determined to finish him
off. In the year 35 AH (656 CE) a group of insurgents stormed Uthman's
house and murdered him while he was reading the Quran. It was one of the
most shocking events in the early history of Islam.
Ali was persuaded to accept the responsibility of the Caliphate and all
Muslims swore allegiance to him, including Talhah and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam.
Talhah and Zubayr were deeply shocked by the murder of Uthman. They were
horrified and felt strongly that the murderers should be punished and
that justice should be done. But the punishment of the murderers was not
an easy task in as much as the crime was not just the work of a few individuals
but involved a large number of persons.
Talhah and Zubayr sought Ali's permission to go to Makkah to perform
Umrah. They met Aishah the wife of the Prophet. She was greatly shocked
when she heard of the assassination of Uthman. From Makkah, Talhah, Zubayr
and Aishah set off for Basrah where large numbers were gathering to seek
revenge for the death of Uthman.
The forces gathered at Basrah seemed to present an open challenge to
Ali. As the caliph of the Muslims and the head of the entire Muslim State,
he could not tolerate any insurrection or armed revolt against the State.
But what a difficult and awesome task he faced! To deal with the revolt,
he had to confront his brothers, his companions and his friends-followers
of the Prophet and his religion, those who often fought side by side with
him against the forces of shirk, those whom he respected and loved.
The forces clamoring for vengeance for Uthman and those supporting Ali
met at a place called Kuraybah, near Basrah. Ali desired to avoid war
and settle matters by peaceful means. He used every means at his disposal
to achieve peace. He clung to every hope of avoiding confrontation. But
the dark forces at work against Islam and how numerous were these, were
determined that matters should come to a terrible and bloody end.
Ali wept. He wept bitterly when he saw Aishah, the "Mother of the Believers"
in her hawdaj or palanquin astride a camel at the head of the army which
now emerged to fight him. And when he saw Talhah and Zubayr, two close
companions of the Prophet, in the midst of the army, he shouted to them
to come out to him. They did and Ali said to Talhah:
"O Talhah, have you come with the wife of the Messenger of Allah to fight
along with her...?" And to Zubayr he said:
"O Zubayr, I implore you, by God, do you remember the day when the Prophet.
peace be on him, passed by you and we were in such and such a place and
he asked you: 'Do you love Ali?' and you said: 'Why shouldn't I love my
cousin and one who follows my religion...?'"
Ali continued talking to them reminding them of the bonds of brotherhood
and faith. In the end both Talhah and Zubayr withdrew from participation
in this civil war. They withdrew immediately when they saw the situation
in a different light. But they paid for that withdrawal with their lives.
As they withdrew, a man named Amr ibn Jarmouz followed Zubayr and cowardly
murdered him while he performed Salat. Talhah was killed by an arrow allegedly
shot by Marwan - a cousin of Uthman who was too blinded by rage and the
desire to seek revenge for his kinsman to respond to the possibility of
avoiding war and bloodshed among Muslims.
The murder of Uthman had become Talhah's tryst with destiny. He did not
participate in the fighting and killing that followed that came to be
known in history as the "Battle of the Camel". Indeed, if he had known
that the fitnah would have degenerated into such insane hatred and bitterness
and resulted in such a bloody outcome, he would have resisted it. He was
not keen to fight Ali. He was simply appalled by the murder of Uthman
and wanted to see justice done. Before the beginning of the battle he
had said in a voice choked with emotion:
"O Lord, for the sake of Uthman, take from me this day until You are
pleased." Then when Ali faced him and Zubayr, they saw the correctness
of his position and withdrew from the field of battle. Yet, in these difficult
circumstances, martyrdom was reserved for them.
The Battle of Camel came to an end. Aishah, the mother of the believers,
realized that she had precipitated matters and left Basrah for the Sacred
Mosque and then to Madinah distancing herself from the conflict. Ali provided
well for her journey giving her all the comfort and honor due to her.
When the numerous dead from the battle were brought together, Ali led
the funeral prayer for them all, those who were with him and those who
were against him. And when he had finished burying Talhah and Zubayr he
bade farewell to them with a heavy heart, a heart filled with tenderness
"I really hope," he said in simple and sublime words, "that Talhah, az-Zubayr,
Uthman and I will be among those of whom God has said: 'And We shall remove
from their hearts any lurking sense of injury and rancor; they will be
brothers joyfully facing each other on thrones of dignity.' "(The Quran,
Surah al-Hijr, 15:47)
Then he looked tenderly and sorrowfully on the graves of his brothers
in faith and said: "I have heard with these two ears of mine the Messenger
of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, saying: "Talhah and
az-Zubayr are my companions in Paradise!"